The Thought Behind This Artwork:
This painting is about the Muslim women the world fails to see or acknowledge. In its eagerness to highlight only the oppressed, persecuted or the less fortunate Muslim women around the world that are victims of patriarchy, cultural or political coercion, the happy Muslima, the empowered Muslima, the independent Muslima is adamantly left out. The truth is that although the portrait of subjugated women often painted by the media or the western world is real, they are not the only Muslim women that exist in the society. That is not the only truth.
The Invisible Muslima is one amongst those millions of unsung and overlooked Muslim women across the world. These are women that are strong, liberated, awakened in all senses, exercising their rights and voicing their opinions. They are leaders, educators, lawyers, doctors, writers, artists, activists, homemakers striving to raise a progressive generation, existing just like any other women across the religious and racial spectrum, making a valuable contribution to the society. These women believe in the message of Islam, and practice the tenets of their religion to strengthen their bonds with their Creator. This actually makes them more concerned about issues that challenge humanity and they strive to bring change therein. That said, my hope behind this painting is to widen the narrative around Muslim women and ensure that we are not pitied or underestimated for our identity. We must be celebrated not only for who we are but for who we choose to be.
I have painted my Muslima to be faceless so as to show the extent of her invisibility to others. She stands supported by a tree, a symbol of wisdom and growth; a result of the heaven, earth and water. Rooted in the earth but reaching for the sky. The book she holds is the material incarnation of knowledge and wisdom, a container of intellect. In art, an open book often symbolizes the book of life, erudition and wisdom.
The stairs represent progress, ascension and spiritual passage through levels of initiation. The headscarf or hijab does not cover her head, but encircles around her: designed to show what she is underneath the hijab. To show that there is a wholesome human being with opinions, ambitions, dreams and agency under the hijab. Her inner, individual freedom is further indicated by her long, flowing hair.
Meanwhile, the ship to the left of the canvas stands as a representation of herself and her journey towards adventure and exploration. The fact that the ship is shown as outmoded and of antiquated nature refers to how the rest of the world or media sees her. It appears to be archaic and ancient and yet I have shown the ship floating on clouds, signifying that in reality, it knows no restrictions and is transcendent.
Finally, the two rivers flowing below the roots of the tree signify the Muslima’s contributions to the society, what she brings forth and achieves through her hard work and acumen.
Haafiza Sayed’s work is a synthesis of contemporary realism, landscape study, and abstract. She uses the subtlety of lines, textures, and symbols to convey complex, often surreal themes through simple imagery. She can be reached here.